Remember that old commercial where the elderly lady is on the floor, calling her Lifeline, saying, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”? It produced parody spinoffs for decades. What a horrible thing, though, to fall and really not have the ability to pick yourself up!
This winter, I’ve fallen two times. The first time, I was in our driveway, trying to descend from the street to the house because I had forgotten to grab my lunch as I went out the door to go to work. It was so deep in snow and so slick that Ed (who was driving me) was afraid that if he tried to drive back down in the driveway, he would get stuck and I’d never get to work. Unfortunately, I fell hard. One would think all that snow would cushion somewhat, but my body fell so hard and fast that I went all the way to the driveway in a nanosecond. Ouch! Fortunately, no bones were broken, but the pain lasted for weeks.
The second time, I recently fell on the black ice outside the hospital where I work. It was 4 a.m. and dark, and I hadn’t realized that I had parked by black ice, or that I would be stepping out on black ice when I exited the car. This time I fell on the right side of my body, directly on my right arm and elbow. I received a colorful bruise and more pain from that one. Again, fortunately, no bones broken. (A broken arm for a transcriptionist is bad news.)
A few years ago, I was home by myself and carrying a big pot of spaghetti noodles from the stove to the sink, when some olive-oil-laden water splashed out of the pot onto the hard tile kitchen floor, and of course, my foot found it immediately and went out from under me. I fell on the left side of my body, and with the type of quick fall and the extra-hard surface, the left side of my body was so traumatized inside that a couple of weeks later I started having chest pains and thought I was having a heart attack. Audrey, my friend who is a massage therapist, says the body has physical “trauma memory” just like psychological trauma memory. What it endures may lie dormant, but it never forgets.
I think that ability to get up when we fall and deal with the aftermath is one of the traits I value in people whom I admire and respect. When my first cousin died last year at 49, my elderly aunt and uncle were understandably shaken and forever changed, but they gathered around the church and family and friends and are learning to keep on living. When my dad died in 1980, my 56-year-old mother was caught by surprise and totally unprepared, but she, too, survived, learned with the help of my sister to handle the things Dad would have handled, and is thriving.
As I mentioned before, I wrote letters to our kids for their first 18 years, and after I wrote their last letters, I had Ed write them each a letter, too. I remember that in Rachel’s book, he wrote about trees. He said she was a strong tree that didn’t like change in plans and liked things to stay the same, but to succeed in life, she needed to be a willow tree, one that bends with the wind. He rightly saw that a capacity to pick herself up when the unexpected happens and figure out what to do from there would benefit her tremendously in life.
It’s tempting to say that whatever it is “shouldn’t” have happened, or “wouldn’t have happened if...” and stay there on the floor. Of course, we learn from our mistakes, and we need to examine the circumstances that made us fall. Was I going too fast? Was I not paying attention? Should I have just gone on to buy my lunch that day and not gone back for it in treacherous conditions? Should I never be allowed in a kitchen again? What can I do in the future to prevent falling yet another time? An evaluation and plan is, of course, the wise response to make.
But in the end, whether you were the instigator or a helpless victim, you have to admit you’ve fallen, pick yourself up, and go from there.
I’ve given as examples some horrible, traumatic events, such as family deaths, to illustrate resiliency. But the ability to be resilient, I think, makes even the small things in life go a bit easier. Temporarily discontinued an exercise program, like I have, because of the black ice arm injury and working so much overtime? Figure out a way to get back up. The wonderful news is that today is indeed another day, another opportunity. I think each time we steam ahead and keep trying, we add more molecules of fortitude and discard more molecules of fear.
In one way, life is kind of like that TV show, “Let’s Make a Deal.” You get a chance to open doors and boxes and make bets, and sometimes you win the cruise and sometimes you get the donkey. In the show, most participating audience members don’t get to continue; they’re stuck with what they’ve gotten. That’s the wonderful thing about life, though - for our allotted days, we can keep plugging away, falling, getting up, falling again, getting up again. And I feel blessed to have role models to show me exactly how this works.